Today is Maternal Mental Health awareness day and I wanted to share my story and my struggles with postpartum anxiety and depression with you all in hopes that maybe my story can help someone.
Although I've never kept it a secret from anyone, I haven't yet really openly shared my story. It all started back when Everly was born. Life was blissful! She was the perfect baby, absolutely perfect. She rarely cried and slept through the night starting at 6 weeks. She was so happy all of the time. I remember thinking to myself when she was about 3 months old that I didn't understand what everyone complains about.. motherhood is easy! (HA!)
When Everly was about 5 months old, it became a challenge to put her to bed at night. It took hours until she would finally fall asleep and it started to really get to me. I wasn't just annoyed, I was enraged. Like this ball of fire building up in my chest that I couldn't control. It would burn hotter and hotter and then.. she'd fall asleep.
I spent the first year of her life wondering where that fire came from. Wondering why I would get so angry. I looked up the symptoms for postpartum depression over an over again but they never fit me. So I ignored it and moved on.
Most of the time, I was completely fine. Blissfully happy with my little family and eager to add one more. It was only the odd difficult night and I would just switch out with my husband who was more than willing to take over. No problem!
And then almost exactly 18 months after we welcomed Everly to our lives, her brother Diggory completed our family. Everything that Everly was as a baby, Digg was the opposite. The first 6 weeks were pure hell. He cried all. the. time. Somehow I managed to hold it together most of the time and then other times.. not so much. Again, I looked up the symptoms for PPD. Again, I didn't feel like they fit me.
Did I cry? Yes, a lot. But I didn't have suicidal thoughts or a lack of interest in other areas of my life. I didn't want to lay in bed all day. I wasn't pushing people away. I felt very bonded to both of my kids, despite all of his crying, and I certainly had no trouble sleeping at night!
But that fire.. I felt that ball of fire creeping up again. Surely that couldn't be normal? To go from happy to full blown rage. The speed in which I would go from one to the other scared me. I often lashed out at my (amazingly supportive and loving) husband.
I felt lost. This wasn't me, but nobody else could see it. Why can't you see it? This angry person isn't me. The real me is still in here, don't you see her? She's small and you can hardly hear her over the crackling of that burning fire, but she's there, I promise. Just reach down deep and you'll find her. The mother who is patient and calm. The mother who knows how to soothe her children. The one who doesn't yell. The one who doesn't strike fear in her child's eyes. The mother I know I would be if I just knew how to put that blazing fire out.
Diggory was 8 months old when I finally came across a blog that connected all of the dots for me. I wish I could credit that blog here but I have no idea where I found it. That mother wrote about the anger and introduced me to the term Postpartum Anxiety. It all clicked. Not only was I a raging lunatic, but I also never left the house with my kids unless my husband was with me. Not once. In 8 months. Because it terrified me to think of what I would do if they cried. What if people stared or made comments. What if I couldn't make them stop crying?? I didn't know how I could do that alone.
I made an appointment with my doctor as soon as I finished reading that blog. I finally felt like I understood that yes, something was wrong with me. No, this wasn't normal. And most importantly, yes, there is help.
My family doctor is amazing and I could sing her praises all day. An appointment that i expected to be mortifying, felt instead like a gigantic weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. Sure, it wasn't pleasant. Having to answer the question "have you ever had thoughts about hurting your children?" with anything other than an "ABSOLUTELY NOT" didn't feel great. Because the truth was, I had thought about it. The truth was that I had also imagined walking outside and passing my son off to a stranger. Just take him because clearly he doesn't want me. Clearly literally anyone else could do a much better job. Clearly I am not a good mother, not in the slightest. I walked a very fine line between understanding how someone could lose control and shake or harm their baby, and actually doing it. Because while I never did hurt my children, I began to understand how it's possible.
How on Earth did I wait that long? And that's not even including the fact that I showed symptoms with Everly long before then. My doctor prescribed me medication that I began the next day and slowly, that fire went out. It was close to Thanksgiving when I started to feel the full effects and I remember joking that if someone asked me what I was thankful for, I would say my medication.
Am I the perfect mother now? Of course not! Do I still get mad? Yes. Do I still yell? More than I would like. But, I don't feel the fire anymore. I don't feel out of control anymore. I don't feel like the real me is buried deep down surrounded by flames anymore. I feel peace. I feel happiness. I feel immense gratitude for this beautiful life that I have. Medication is not the answer for everyone, but for me, it was my saving grace. It gave me my life back and gave my kids the mother they deserve.
One day I hope to come off of it, but for now I will simply enjoy these precious days with my beautiful family, flame-free.
If you're struggling with a postpartum mood disorder, please reach out to someone. There is help and a world of support available to you once you accept that you need it. 1 in 5 women are struggling right along with you. You are not alone. You are never alone. If you need someone to talk to, please feel free to reach out to me, no judgement whatsoever.
And if someone you know may be struggling, see the photo below for a great list of questions that can open up conversations. Asking the right questions is so important! These talks can be uncomfortable, but please consider the harm you may be doing by remaining silent. In the end, they will thank you.
* All photos by MC Photography: https://www.facebook.com/melanie.cote.mcphotography/